Chicago’s longtime chief labor negotiator sizes up Paul Vallas, Brandon Johnson

Jim Franczek described Vallas as a “pretty independent guy” while he’s wary of Johnson’s ties to the Chicago Teachers Union.

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Jim Franczek, Chicago’s chief labor negotiator.

Jim Franczek, Chicago’s chief labor negotiator

Sun-Times file

The April 4 mayoral runoff between Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson has been portrayed as the candidate of the Fraternal Order of Police versus the candidate of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Jim Franczek, the city’s chief labor negotiator, doesn’t see it that way — and he’s in a unique position to know.

Franczek called Vallas the “clear choice” and Johnson and his ties to the CTU a grave concern.

Franczek sat on the other side of the bargaining table when Vallas was serving as an unpaid adviser to the FOP who helped deliver the eight-year contract that ended the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history.

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If not for Vallas, Franczek claims, the contract would never have included all of the “core police accountability provisions” demanded by City Council members and the consent decree outlining terms of federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department.

Those provisions include ending the 40-year ban on the investigation of anonymous complaints about police misconduct; no longer allowing officers to change their stories after reviewing bodycam video of an incident; eliminating a requirement that disciplinary records older than five years be destroyed; and lifting the ban on rewarding police officers who report wrongdoing by fellow cops.

“In the world of labor relations and the world of police accountability, these [reforms] were pretty big deals. And frankly, nobody but Paul Vallas could have done that. It was Paul’s considerable powers of persuasion and the ability to be able to bring people together that resulted in that agreement,” Franczek said.

Before being eliminated in Feb. 28 voting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused Vallas of taking his law-and-order “marching orders” from newly reelected FOP President John Catanzara.

Franczek said nothing could be further from the truth.

“John is certainly a controversial personality. No ifs, ands or buts about that. But it’s a complete mischaracterization to say that Paul Vallas, who is not exactly a wallflower himself, was taking orders from John Catanzara,” Franczek said.

“Paul is a pretty independent guy. I’ve known him for 30 years. He’s not about to take orders from John Catanzara or, for that matter, anybody else. What he is gonna be able to do is work effectively with a wide range of people, appreciate their interests, and try to come up with solutions and reconciliations on those interests.”

Franczek described Vallas as a “dealmaker” who “makes things work.”

He pointed to a pair of four-year teacher contracts he and Vallas negotiated together during Vallas’ six-year run as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

“Prior to that — from 1968 to 1995 — there were eleven strikes. There were 20 collective bargaining agreements that were one year or two years. The Chicago Public Schools were literally in a state of uncertainty and fragility,” Franczek recalled.

“Paul came in and — for eight years with two, four-year collective bargaining agreements — provided stability, flexibility and predictability to the system. And it wasn’t as if the Chicago Teachers Union [leaders] were a bunch of pansies back then. Tom Reece and his group were very tough advocates. Reaching those agreements was not easy. Paul was definitely the stick that stirred the drink.”

Johnson is a paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union whose campaign is being bankrolled and staffed by the CTU, SEIU Local 1, SEIU Healthcare and AFSCME Council 31.

Franczek said that should be a grave concern to Chicago voters, though he considers Johnson a “very significant person” with “enormous talents.”

“Last time I looked, he got $5 million from the Chicago Teachers Union. He’s getting millions of dollars from SEIU. It’s inconceivable, given human nature, that he’s not gonna feel beholden and an obligation to the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU,” Franczek said.

“He said, ‘I’m gonna resign from the Chicago Teachers Union.’ That’s fine. But he’s worked his professional career for the Chicago Teachers Union. And I can’t believe that he’s still not gonna bleed CTU.”


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